If you want to have a say in your government, then a career as a senator or representative may be right for you. But not just anyone can be elected to the U.S. Congress. Depending on whether you want to sit in the Senate or the House of Representatives, you will need to meet specific qualifications.
The Senate is known as the upper house of the U.S. Congress. There are 100 senators in the Senate -- two for each state. Senators are elected in popular elections at the state level and represent the state that has elected them. Senators are elected for six-year terms. Senate elections are staggered so each Senate seat is contested in a different electoral year.
Representatives sit in the U.S. House of Representatives -- the lower house of Congress. Unlike the Senate, the number of representatives in a state is based on the state's population. As of time of publication there are 435 representatives in the House as well as nonvoting members representing the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico. Representatives represent a specific district within their state and are elected to two-year terms.
The qualifications for being a U.S. senator are specified in Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution. It specifies that to become a senator you need to be at least 30 years old. You do not need to be born a U.S. citizen, but you need to have been a U.S. citizen for at least nine years. Finally, you need to be a resident of the state that you are elected to represent.
Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution prescribes three qualifications for representatives. Like senators, there is an age qualification, but it is lower -- you need to be at least 25 to be a representative. The citizenship qualifications are also slightly less stringent -- you only need to be a citizen for seven years. Finally, as with senators, representatives must be residents of the state that they represent.
The qualifications for state senators and representatives are mandated by individual state constitutions, so they vary. For instance, California state senators must be at least 30, have been a U.S. citizen for at least nine years and a California resident for at least three years. The Maine Constitution, on the other hand, mandates that senators must be at least 25 years old. A senator must have been a U.S. citizen for at least five years and a resident of Maine for at least one year.
- Win McNamee/Getty Images News/Getty Images